Monday, 4 March 2013

Miscellaneous Mondays: Cover Me

Back in December, we included a link to the Hawkeye Initiative in our comics recommendations post. The goal of that blog is to make apparent the ridiculous double standard in the visual representation of men and women in comics. While men are portrayed in powerful poses that emphasize their strength, women are depicted in the “sexiest” way possible. Here, “sexy” tends to translate as “improbable at best, impossible at worst, and always awkward.” The women on comic covers are rarely ready for the battle they are ostensibly fighting; it’s a wonder they can avoid evisceration or evade capture in their revealing costumes and stilettos.

Although it would be nice to think that this phenomenon was limited to comics, a quick perusal of any general bookstore will reveal that this is not the case. The worst offenders are found in the fantasy/science fiction genre, and up until recently, these covers have received far less attention than those of comics. Since January 2012, however, one man has taken it upon himself to prove that you can judge a book by its cover.

The man in the picture at the top of this post is fantasy author Jim C. Hines. He provides a real, physical demonstration of the ridiculousness of the poses prevalent on the covers of his genre’s books. To emphasize his point, he replicates these images using things such as Nerf guns in place of firearms; he is very much in the act of playing dress-up. That’s the point: none of the things on these covers are real. Neither men nor women can really pose like that, and if they could, they wouldn’t be able to hold it for very long. If they could, by some miracle, hold the pose, they certainly couldn’t move afterward. In fact, part of the fantasy may be the reader’s temporary belief in the character’s proficiency in contortion.

As Hines states, the problem is precisely that most people cannot see the bizarre nature of these covers without his intentionally awful reproductions: “The way women are portrayed is just so ridiculous, so often, you just stop seeing it... I think posing has made people see it again - you see how ridiculous it is when a 38-year-old fantasy writer is doing it.” The article is well worth a read, for Hines’ take on the issue (which he discussed on his own blog here) as well as the expert opinions of two women, the creative director for Tor Books and an advocate for diversity in the representation of women on book covers. If that doesn’t convince you, consider reading it for its mention of a study that proves that sex doesn’t always sell. What, a truism on which the whole entertainment industry is based may in fact be false? Perish the thought.

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